Elite and NCAA Gymnast Training Updates—Part 20


Full Twist contributor Anna Rose Johnson recently caught up with some elite, Level 10, and NCAA gymnasts to discuss their training, future goals, and more.

Natasha Coates, Anika Dujakovich, Lia Jacobson, Abby Kaufman, Shayla Kelley, Kristina and Maryanna Peterson, Connie Hsu, Lynne Hutchison, Alexis Stokes, and Annika Urvikko provided us with thoughtful insights into their training.


Natasha Coates is a British senior artistic gymnast who competes in the disability division. The eight-time British champion recently had a setback in her gymnastics training when she was hospitalized, but she is already on the mend. “I’m really lucky to have such an amazing support system behind me and my coaches; Ema Doherty and Sally Stuart always help me improve whilst keeping my health a priority,” Natasha told Full Twist.

Natasha noted that her “long-term goal is to compete at the British Championships in September.”

When asked if she was working on any new skills, she explained, “I was, but I have mainly been focusing on limiting my deductions on basic skills before starting to learn new skills.”

Natasha shared some great advice for the Full Twist readers: “Be brave, stay focused and work hard, let your talent speak for itself.”



Anika Dujakovich is a U.S. Level 10 gymnast from Fuzion Gymnastics Center in Missouri. At the 2015 State Championships in March, Anika won the silver medal on vault with a score of 9.600, and she is currently recovering from an ACL injury sustained at that competition. “[My recovery is going] very well—I had surgery [five] weeks ago and it was difficult to get started with my rehab, but after therapy started it has been easier,” Anika told Full Twist. “I have great therapists that are tuned into what gymnasts need to get me back on track.”

Anika explained that she should be able to train full speed toward the end of this year. “I’m planning on competing in 2016,” she told us. “I did a lot of rehab before I had surgery and I think that’s going to help with my training in the next few months.”

The 16-year-old noted, “I won’t be competing elite,” but she has several goals for the future. “[My] short-term goal would be getting back into the gym and training with my teammates, and my long term goal remains to compete gymnastics for a Division I school beginning with the 2017-2018 season,” said Anika.

She added, “Never give up, and don’t let anything stand in the way of your dreams. Work through adversity. Keep training hard, stay focused, and no matter how hard it is now, it will pay off in the end.”




Lynne Hutchison is a rhythmic gymnast from Great Britain. She was a member of the British team at the 2012 London Olympic Games, where she helped her team to 12th place in qualifications. “Training has been going really well recently,” Lynne told Full Twist. “Last year was hard as I had just returned from a long time out due to injury. This year it’s been good to be able to train hard with less limitations and I feel I’ve really improved!”

The 20-year-old described her goals in gymnastics: “I have the World University Games coming up this summer, which is a huge event! I really hope to be at my best at this competition.Long-term I want to always inspire others, have unique and original routines that the audience can enjoy, and to make everyone feel something when they watch me perform. I’m also a coach, so I want to make as many gymnasts as possible fall in love with our beautiful sport and help to raise the level of rhythmic gymnastics in our country.”

Lynne told us, “I am going to Serbia in a couple of weeks to represent GB with Stephani Sherlock. I’m really looking forward to it, as we are both going to the Universiade together so it will be great preparation!”

When asked if she’s working on any new skills, Lynne replied, “My routines are really different this year, although I have kept some of my music the same. Most of these changes were made at the end of last year as we try to keep everything stable around now when we have a lot of competitions. My ribbon routine is completely new this year and I love it! It’s called ‘Devil and Angel’ and it tells the story of a nightmare and I’m kind of possessed, it’s pretty dark! But I think it’s powerful and I’ve had a lot of positive comments from people about it! It feels great performing it in competition, I can just put all my emotion into it and really try and tell the story.”

Lynne offered some advice to our readers: “Love what you do, that’s the most important thing! I would never have gotten to where I am if it wasn’t for my passion. I’ve had a lot of injury problems during my career and even carry a significant scoliosis which at one point I was told would need operating on and would end my career! There’s always a way to do what you want to do. Never give up!”



Connie Hsu is a U.S. Level 9 artistic gymnast from Harpeth Gymnastics in Franklin, Tennessee. She competed in the all-around at the 2015 Region 8 Level 9 Championships in April. “My training is going great!” Connie told Full Twist. “My coaches are really encouraging, and they’ve helped me get through very hard times.”

Connie explained her gymnastics goals: “Short-term goal—I’m trying to get my back handspring layout on the beam and my bail (shootover) to handstand on bars. I’m going to be competing Level 9 again this year. (I’ll be in eighth grade in August this year.) Long-term goal—I am trying to make it to college gymnastics on a scholarship.” She added, “I don’t think I’ll try elite gymnastics, but the elites are fun to watch! I’m really just trying for college.”

On the subject of her next competition, Connie said, “My next competition will be in November or January. My gym usually goes to one in November as a ‘warm-up meet’ or like a fun meet, but our actual competition season starts in January.”

Connie remarked, “[I would say] to the Full Twist readers: Don’t give up. There are lots of ups and downs in life, and you just have to push through it. Also, crying doesn’t help (I’ve learned from experience…).”



Lia Jacobson is a U.S. Level 9 artistic gymnast from DeVeau’s School of Gymnastics in Indiana. At the 2015 Level 9 Eastern Championships, she placed sixth in the all-around and first on the uneven bars. “At the moment [training] has been going great,” Lia told Full Twist. “I am confident about my routines and everything feels as though it is falling right into place. Although at the beginning of the season I struggled with a mental block and still do, I feel like I am becoming more determined to overcome it. I am also struggling with pain in my shoulder, but it is pretty normal as a gymnast.”

Lia told us, “I don’t think my path is towards elite level, but instead on a college level. My long-term goal would be to get a college scholarship for gymnastics.”

The 16-year-old shared some advice for the Full Twist readers: “I would like to tell all of you not to give up. Push through any obstacle, whether it [is] an injury or mental block or whatever else may come with this sport because it is definitely worth it and you never know what you’re capable of unless you try.”



Abby Kaufman is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast from Prestige Gymnastics in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She recently competed at the 2015 J.O. National Championships, tying for sixth place on floor exercise in the Junior D division. “My training has been going well despite some minor injury setbacks,” Abby told Full Twist. “I haven’t been able to continue doing some of the highest level skills I am accustomed to, however I’ve been able to maintain quite a bit as a result of training smart. This type of training allowed me to be able to compete at J.O. Nationals this past year. My hope is that within the next year I will be fully recovered and improving on my technique and difficulty even more.”

When asked about her gymnastics goals, Abby told us, “Some of my short- and long-term goals in gymnastics are improving my personal all around record of a 38.6, which I achieved this year at the WOGA Classic. I also want to qualify to J.O. Nationals again [in] my final two years in the J.O. program. I’d love to place in the top 5 AA and earn a national title. I want to continue being the best gymnast and role model as possible in the gym, because in this sport young girls truly need someone of character, influence and strength to look up to. My long-term goal is to become an All-American in gymnastics when I pursue my collegiate career at West Virginia University.”

On the subject of elite gymnastics, Abby explained, “I did give the elite path a try last year just to make sure I would not have any regrets looking back. I found that the elite world was not the right fit for me personally. I have always been a high level achiever raising the bar for myself, but the one thing that I want the most for my future is to have a very healthy and successful collegiate career. I know exactly what it takes to be an elite gymnast and I have nothing but admiration for the girls pursuing it and wish them the very best.”

Abby’s next competition will most likely be in December. “I will post my competition schedule on my website as soon as I get it this summer,” she commented. “Until then I will be going to the Region 7 High Performance Clinic at Woodward for J.O. National qualifiers in September. That’s always a fun and learning experience.”

She added, “As many gymnasts who are reading this blog know, gymnastics is one of the most challenging sports in the world. It comes with many ups and downs, but it can also teach us so many life lessons. For me personally, I have built my gymnastics career on faith, hard work, a great attitude and a heart of gratitude. It has shaped me into who I am today and I would not trade my journey for anything.”



Shayla Kelley is a U.S. NCAA gymnast competing in acrobatics and tumbling at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She is the oldest daughter of Mary Lou Retton. “My training has been going great!” Shayla told Full Twist. “I just got released 100% from my ACL injury that happened last year, so I am slowly making progress with my tumbling. But because of the year of absence from tumbling, I was able to improve on my weakness, which is flying. My fantastic and trustworthy coaches were the reason why I was able to learn how to be a flyer in toss this year, which landed me a spot in Toss 3 with the highest start value toss that you can throw in the NCATA, a kick back double full!”

Shayla described this past season at Baylor as “a dream come true.” She explained, “This year we had an undefeated season and got a National Championship under our belts! This is a huge accomplishment for Baylor’s Acrobatics and Tumbling team because we were nowhere near this last year. Winning the National Championship was one of the best feelings that I have ever felt, and it took a while for it to actually sink in. The training, as well as physical therapy for my knee, was very intense this year, but it 100% paid off.”

20-year-old Shayla discussed her gymnastics goals: “My goals through this sport are to win more than one National Championship, as well as get all of my tumbling back. The injury really set me back, but I was able to get mentally stronger through recovery, so I just hope that I can use that to come back even stronger this next year in tumbling!”

Shayla added, “Something that I would like to share with the Full Twist readers is that gymnasts have more than one opportunity to go to college on scholarship. Yes, there are the classic artistic gymnastics scholarships that are given out to very talented gymnasts, but there is also this incredible sport of Acrobatics and Tumbling. I was not the top Level 10 or elite gymnast at my club gymnastics gym in high school, so I didn’t have as many opportunities to compete what I loved in college. Acrobatics and Tumbling is such an incredible sport that gives so many gymnasts the opportunity to not only compete the sport that they have done their entire lives, but it also gives such a strong sense of community and friendships with a group of girls who share the same passions.”




Kristina and Maryanna Peterson are sisters and also Level 10 artistic gymnasts. They train at Metropolitan Gymnastics in Kent, Washington. “My training has been going well,” 18-year-old Maryanna told Full Twist. “I have practice from 4pm to 8pm Monday through Friday. I myself have improved and have been consistent so far this Level 10 season.”

15-year-old Kristina told us that her training has also been going great. “It has its ups and downs but I’m able to work through all of it.”

Maryanna and Kristina described what it’s like to train with your sister. “Training alongside my sister is bittersweet,” Maryanna explained. “Since she is much younger [than] I am, she is more of a daredevil and learns new skills faster than me. During our competitions I am glad that we are not in the same age group. I still love her as a sister and as teammate while we practice and compete together. I hope she goes far in this sport of gymnastics.”

“Training alongside my sister has been such a great opportunity, she a wonderful athlete, a great teammate, and [an] awesome sister!” Kristina added.

Both sisters recently qualified to the J.O. National Championships, which Maryanna had previously named as one of her goals. “I still have not fulfilled my long-term goal of becoming a college competitive gymnast,” Maryanna noted. “I have had this goal set since I was 12 years old in my first year of Level 9. Once I am in college gymnastics attire on the competition floor waving my hand to the audience when my name is called is when I have accomplished my long-term goal!”

“My short-term goals in gymnastics [are] to try and become an elite or a really strong Level 10,” said Kristina. “A long-term goal is to make it in to a great college that has all the studies that I will need in my future job and also get to do college gymnastics too.”

On the subject of elite gymnastics, Maryanna told us, “I honestly do not think I have ever thought of becoming an elite gymnast, even though people around me thought I could when I was younger. I do remember saying that ‘one day I will be on television’. [To] this day I am just amazed of how much the world of gymnastics has changed.”

Kristina told us that her coach has been suggesting she try for elite. “I was going to do it this year but then turned it down,” she remarked. “I wanted to do one more season of Level 10 [and] then go for it!”

Maryanna offered some advice: “If there is ever a time you want to quit, DO NOT give in and quit! Make goals that you are able to accomplish. Talk to your parents or coaches for advice on what you should do in that situation. Never give up and always keep your head held high with a smile on your face.”

When asked what she’d like to tell the Full Twist readers, Kristina replied, “I would love to tell all of them that if they want to see some awesome gymnastics then got follow my YouTube account or on Instagram: _kris_kiki_ .”

Maryanna added, “Injuries are the number one thing that all gymnasts and coaches do not like. But when you are injured, do not let that destroy your talent and love of the sport. Continue your participation by doing conditioning, coming to gym practice, talking with your teammates, [and] watching your teammates as you are regaining your self-confidence. Motivate yourself, believe in yourself, take care of yourself and know that you are only getting stronger from this point on.”



Alexis Stokes is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast. She competed at the 2014 J.O. National Championships and recently switched gyms, moving from Denton Gymnastics to WOGA in Plano, Texas. “My training has been going well,” Alexis told Full Twist. “I’m currently working on a Yurchenko full, a Shaposh on bars, an Onodi on beam, and a double layout on floor.”

Alexis, who told us she “would love” to qualify for elite, mentioned her gymnastics goals: “A short-term goal would probably be to master the new skills I’m working on and to be able to put them in a routine. My long-term gymnastics goals are to qualify to elite and to get a scholarship to a Division I school.”

The 14-year-old told us that her next competition will be a while from now, but she maintains a positive attitude. “A back injury has prevented me from competing at all this season,” Alexis explained. “I’m still recovering from my back injury, but I have almost all of my skills back now. I hope to gain some new skills and improve a lot over the summer so that I can be ready for a strong season next year.”



Annika Urvikko is a senior elite gymnast competing for Finland. A veteran of the sport, she has competed in five World Championships and placed 55th in the all-around at the 2012 Olympic Games. “My training has been going very well,” Annika told Full Twist. “[Recently] I had [the] Finnish Championship competition and the weekend was fantastic for me. I [won the] all-around competition and then I was also the best gymnast in Finland on vault, bars and floor. So I am very happy with my result. Now, it’s time to take some holiday and then start training [for the] next competition season.”

Annika’s next competition will be the World University Games in Gwangju, South Korea. “My goal there is to get to the finals,” she noted. “In the autumn, my main goal is to compete at the World Championships in Glasgow and [qualify to the] 2016 Olympic Games.” She commented that she hopes to get some new skills this year. “I [hope] that I can get more twist on vault,” she remarked.

When asked what she’d like to tell the Full Twist readers, Annika said, “Well, I don’t know if I have anything very important, but I have one quote which describes me in some way and which can be useful in gymnastics: ‘Smile and let everyone know that today you are stronger than you were yesterday.’ ”

Stay tuned for Part 21!

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